Bridge of the Untiring Sea (Gebhard and Gregory, eds.)

I finally have my hands on Bridge of the Untiring Sea: the Corinthian Isthmus from Prehistory to Late Antiquityfresh off the press (December 2015) from the Princeton office of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. I wrote briefly about this forthcoming book in June (here and here).

The Bridge has been a long time in the making. It began really with a half century of excavation and survey on the Isthmus (Broneer’s excavations began at Isthmia in 1952). A conference was held in Athens in 2007 celebrating that milestone, which proceeded quickly to chapters in 2008 before stalling out in a long period of revisions (my own chapter on Corinth’s suburbs went through at least eight drafts from conference paper to final proof). So this is a well-edited and thoroughly corrected collection, which means no reviewer should point out spelling mistakes and grammatical inconsistencies in my essay! As I haven’t seen hardly any of these essays since the original presentation in Athens, I’m excited to finally have a copy to read, especially since I’m wrapping up page proofs of another book on The Isthmus of Corinth.

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The Bridge is a substantial book in paperback form, well-illustrated (160 figures) and carefully edited. It’s significantly smaller and about a third the weight of The Corinthia and the Northeast Peloponnese, another Corinthia conference published in 2014, which included 56 chapters and 558 pages on all aspects of the broad modern region of the Korinthia. While the editors’ introduction is short and efficient, the book just feels much more focused and coherent than The Corinthia and the Northeast Peloponnese with its sprawl of archaeological knowledge. The nearly 17 chapters and 400 pages of Bridge focus especially on the vicinity of the Sanctuary of Poseidon at Isthmia and, to some lesser extent, the broader region (technically the Isthmus, which has been generously extended in one chapter to the southeast Corinthia). Almost half of the essays (7 of 17) are devoted to the district of Isthmia in the geometric to Hellenstic periods (with chapters on subjects such as the Temple of Poseidon, the Rachi settlement, figurines, pottery, the Chigi Painter, and the West Foundation); another four chapters take on Roman subjects related to Isthmia (sculpture, agonstic festivals, Roman baths, East Field); there are a couple of Late Antique Isthmia essays (on lamps and the Isthmia fortress); and a few chapters consider the entire region (my piece on Roman settlement, Bill Caraher’s essay on the Justinianic Isthmus, and Tartaron’s piece on Bronze Age Kalamianos).

It’s worth noting that this is a collection of solid archaeological and (mostly) empirical essays on different facets of the history of the Isthmus, and especially the district of Isthmia. Some of the essays look like Hesperia articles with extensive catalogues and photos of artifacts. While the work’s scope provides “for the first time the longue durée of Isthmian history” (p. 1), covering the Mycenaean period to the end of antiquity, the editors do not attempt in the introduction (and there is no conclusion) to impose an overarching explanation or central thesis for the long-standing importance of the Isthmus through time. Rather, they offer a short discussion of its different values to ancient writers, an efficient overview of geography and topography of the broad Isthmus, a cursory history of research at Isthmia, and some discussion of recent research programs, publications, and approaches (which is only missing a substantial dicussion of recent efforts at digitization at Isthmia). What the introduction does establish is the long-lasting importance of the Isthmus in ancient thought and the important ties of the landscape to the city of Corinth — points that are discussed explicitly in many of the essays of the volume. But the essays largely stand on their own with little connection between.

In this respect, The Bridge of the Unitiring Sea should be most useful for Corinthian studies in its presentation of a series of state-of-the-field studies of different material classes (pottery, lamps, architecture, terracotta figurines) and sites, some of which are underpublished. Many of the scholars who have contributed essays to the volume have been engaged for years–decades, even–in archaeological research at Isthmia, the Isthmus, and Corinth and their material classes. The collection, for example, offers up-to-date assessments of the architectural development of the Temple of Poseidon, the history of settlement at Rachi, the West Foundation near Isthmia, the Roman bath, the mysterious “East Field” area near the Temple of Poseidon, and late antique lamps–most of which will form the subject of their own specialist publications in the future.

The work is valuable in a final respect in making available numerous up-to-date maps, plans, and illustrations: maps of the eastern Corinthia, the Isthmian district, the Sanctuary of Poseidon, and the Temple proper; maps of Bronze Age and Roman and Late Roman settlement in the Corinthia; state plans and restored views of the temple, sanctuary, and domestic architecture (at Rachi); reconstructed views of men at work; and dozens of photos of materials excavated at Isthmia.

As the Isthmus is central in so many ways to Corinthian history, this edited collection is a most welcome addition to the scholarship of the ancient Corinthia. And since the essays cover every period from prehistory to late antiquity (sadly, no medieval), and often consider the sanctuary’s relationship to Corinth specifically, this is a work relevant to anyone interested in ancient Corinth and Panhellenic sanctuaries.

The (Almost) Abandoned Village of Lakka Skoutara

Last Friday, the Medieval and Post-Medieval Archaeology in Greece Interest Group co-sponsored a colloquium in two sessions at the Archaeological Institute of America on the theme of “Deserted Villages.” The first session was devoted to the subject of villages before abandonment and included papers on “The ‘Dead Villages’ of Northern Syria” (Anna M. Sitz), “Village Desertion and Settlement Patterns in the Early Medieval Fayum, Egypt” (Brendan Haug), “Abandoned ‘Palaiomaniatika’ from Ottoman Defters, Aerial Survey, and Field Reconnaissance” (Rebecca M. Seifried), “The Deserted Village of Anavatos on the Island of Chios, Greece” (Olga Vassi), and “Routes and Abandoned Villages in the Western Argolid” (Dimitri Nakassis, William Caraher, Sarah James, and Scott Gallimore). The second session was devoted to villages during and after abandonment, and included papers

As Deb Brown’s and Kostis Kourelis’ abstract for the second session describes,

Each paper thoughtfully considers abandonment and post-abandonment histories traced through years of documentation and investigation of structures and settlements that were abandoned or partially abandoned in the 19th and 20th centuries. Each case study includes evidence from historical documents, photographs, and oral histories to offer a more nuanced understanding of the reasons for abandonment, behaviors associated with deserted villages and rural structures, and significance of deserted villages in cultural landscapes. The combined papers contribute new material for understanding protracted abandonment and postabandonment processes and have significant implications for archaeologists’ interpretation of landscapes, settlements, buildings, and assemblages.

I wasn’t able to attend but heard from friends that the colloquium was successful, and that the double session was audio recorded and will be released soon via the internet. I myself co-wrote a paper with friend and colleague Bill Caraher on Lakka Skoutara, an almost deserted (almost) village of the southern Corinthia. Bill and I have visited the little valley of LS about six different summers over the last fifteen years, together with collaborators Tim Gregory and Lita Tzortzopoulou-Gregory. A few years ago, we presented a paper about LS at the Modern Greek Studies Association biennial conference, and we’ve put together a substantial draft of an article to submit somewhere sometime soon. In Friday’s paper, we tried to show some good pictures of the slow abandonment of this settlement that began, arguably in the 1960s (!), and continues to this day. There are as many signs of life in this abandoned valley as there are signs of death.

Some images from our paper Friday. If you’re interested in seeing more, Bill has posted 620 photos via the archival platform Omeka. Here are some of images from Friday.

Below, Mr. Perras and donkey pose in front of Perras’ long house, still standing last we checked. Mr. Perras commutes frequently to visit the country house from the nearby village of Sophiko. Note the storage of an older set of tiles (provisional discard) in front of the house.

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The valley of Lakka Skoutara is just east of Sophiko and north of Korphos in the southeast Corinthia.

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We have counted 18 houses, house foundations, or storage buildings in the valley, plus a little church. There are numerous little agricultural valleys in the Corinthia and Argolid, which attracted seasonal or permanent habitation in the 19th and 20th century. LS was mostly seasonally inhabited except during the hard times such as World War II when settlement was more permanent.

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The table below shows that most of the houses correspond to the Balkan-style “long house” type.

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Many of the buildings today (or at least in 2012, when we were last there) look like this. They have lost their roofs and are quickly collapsing. When the former owner saw his house like this in 2005, he was moved to tears (he had not visited the house in years). This house also shows the mixed style of the later 20th century, which included traditional fieldstone construction combined with concrete cinderblocks. The feature in front of the house is a large cistern.

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Another image of collapse. Archaeological site in formation.

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The interior of another house which still stands and functions for seasonal work reveals a basin and provisional discard (tiles).

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The next three images show how quickly these abandoned houses can change. The first one shows a house with a full set of tiles in 2004, and the second and third show the house robbed of tiles by 2005. Very few of the houses had significant artifact assemblages associated with them. Most were depleted of material during or after abandonment.

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Another good sequence of collapse. The still standing building was being reused as an animal pen the first time we visited the valley. It then began to collapse.
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Collapse continued and worsened by 2009.
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But today, it’s still in use by an area shephered, who makes use of the well associated with the house.
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If the audio for these sessions should go up in the next month or so, I’ll post a link.

 

 

Deserted Villages Session: AIA 2016

Another interesting conference session is in the works—this one for the 2016 meetings of the Archaeological Institute of America on the theme of “Deserted Villages.” I had never seen as much talk on FB about “abandonment” and “formation processes” as the day last summer when friends began to bandy about this session idea.

Proposed Colloquium Session for the 2016 AIA Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA, January 6-9, 2016

Organizers: Deb Brown Stewart and Kostis Kourelis on behalf of the Medieval and Post-Medieval Archaeology Interest Group, Archaeological Institute of America

Deadline for Submission of Abstracts: March 13, 2015

The Medieval and Post-Medieval Archaeology Interest Group invites proposals for papers on the topic “Deserted Villages” for a colloquium at the next AIA Annual Meeting. Of particular interest are papers that feature post-classical sites (late-antique, medieval, or post-medieval villages) and that address:

– definitions of “village” (archaeological or ethnographic),

– new fieldwork or new interpretations of data,

– research that brings together diverse sources of data, and

– historic preservation concerns.

The selected proposals will shape a fuller abstract for the colloquium.

If you have a suitable paper or idea, please send (1) authors’ names, (2) institutional affiliations, (3) contact information, (4) paper title, (5) approximate length of time for your presentation (no more than 20 minutes), and (6) an abstract (no more than 400 words and conforming to “AIA Style Guidelines for Annual Meeting Abstracts”) by March 13th to Deb Brown Stewart, debbrownstewart@gmail.com

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Portal to the Past: A Digital Resource

The Canadian Institute in Greece recently announced a new digital tool called “Portal to the Past: Digital Archive of Archaeological Projects and Research.” According to the press release posted on the Canadian Institute website,

“The user will find detailed information pertaining to all 18 field projects that have been undertaken during the CIG’s history. These projects cover Greece from north to south, east to west and span from the 9th millennium BCE to the 20th century CE. However, within the framework of each project the visitor will also find a wealth of information including details about each project, directors, publications, excavated material, photographs, and much more. A scan of the various “about” pages at the Portal will explain the purposes of each of the main areas of the site, although the most interesting way to see what’s there is to just start clicking!”

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The portal website also notes about the project:

A generous grant from Thracean Gold Mining, S.A., a subsidiary of the Eldorado Gold Corporation (Vancouver), has enabled the Institute to undertake the creation of an interactive website, “Portal to the Past” (or Portal) that highlights the archaeological work of the Canadian Institute in Greece (CIG) since 1980. TheAmbassador of Canada to the Hellenic Republic, Robert W. Peck, was instrumental in creating this opportunity for CIG. This new website is designed to provide a wide audience in Canada and beyond with access to the fieldwork, the finds and the results of the archaeological and scientific research carried out under the auspices of the Canadian Institute in Greece with permits from the Hellenic Ministry of Culture. Cultural organizations around the world for the past decade or so have created similar online portals to make their collections accessible to the public.… In making this available online, both the projects and the Institute will receive a broader recognition of the significant work that they have carried out in the past four decades throughout Greece in elucidating the rich cultural heritage of the country. These discoveries span from the Mesolithic period (ca 9th millennium BCE) to the 20th century CE. One can search each component for specific information.

A clickable map shows site and projects, which link to metadata related to the archaeological work: directors, project team, permit type, funding source, project description, and, usefully, project website, and bibliography.

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Archaeological projects and sites from the southern Corinthia include the Stymphalos Project, Cistercian Monastery of Zaraka Excavation, Ayia Sotira Cemetery Excavation, and the Underwater Survey of Kalamianos Harbor in the southeast Corinthia.

Corinthian Scholarship Monthly (October 2013)

Here’s the round-up of new Corinthiaka scholarship for the month of October. Happy Reading. You can also find these entries at the Corinthian Studies Group Library Page in Zotero.

Bronze Age

Early Iron Age-Hellenistic

Roman and Late Antique

New Testament and Early Christian

  • Brown, Alexandra R. “Creation, Gender, and Identity in (New) Cosmic Perspective: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16.” In The Unrelenting God: Essays on God’s Action in Scripture in Honor of Beverly Roberts Gaventa, edited by David J. Downs and Matthew L. Skinner, 172–193. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2013. http://books.google.com/books?id=uuBgAQAAQBAJ.
  • Downing, F. Gerald. Order and (Dis)order in the First Christian Century: A General Survey of Attitudes. BRILL, 2013. http://books.google.com/books?id=PfeZAAAAQBAJ
  • Eastman, Susan Grove. “Ashes on the Frontal Lobe: Cognitive Dissonance and Cruciform Cognition in 2 Corinthians.” In The Unrelenting God: Essays on God’s Action in Scripture in Honor of Beverly Roberts Gaventa, edited by David J. Downs and Matthew L. Skinner, 194–207. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2013. http://books.google.com/books?id=uuBgAQAAQBAJ
  • Schellenberg, Ryan S. Rethinking Paul’s Rhetorical Education: Comparative Rhetoric and 2 Corinthians 10–13. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2013. http://books.google.com/books?id=8TRXAQAAQBAJ
  • Van den Hoek, Annewies. “The Saga of Peter and Paul: Emblems of Catholic Identity in Christian Literature and Art.” In Pottery, Pavements, and Paradise: Iconographic and Textual Studies on Late Antiquity, edited by Annewies van den Hoek and John Joseph Herrmann, 301–326. BRILL, 2013. http://books.google.com/books?id=RcJSAQAAQBAJ

Diachronic

  • Hadler, H., A. Vött, B. Koster, M. Mathes-Schmidt, T. Mattern, K. Ntageretzis, K. Reicherter, and T. Willershäuser. “Multiple late-Holocene Tsunami Landfall in the Eastern Gulf of Corinth Recorded in the Palaeotsunami Geo-archive at Lechaion, Harbour of Ancient Corinth” (2013).
  • Williams, Charles K., II. “Corinth, 2011: Investigation of the West Hall of the Theater.” Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens 82, no. 3 (2013): 487–549. doi:10.2972/hesperia.82.3.0487.

Maps of the Corinthia

I have updated the Maps section of this website as well as the subdirectories for Contours and Maps of the Corinthia. The latter contains a gallery of maps generated for free distribution for educational and research purposes. The maps present the Corinthia at different scales, with 20 meter and 100 meter contours, generated from the SRTM DEM. Some examples of the gallery maps include….

A simple base map of the Corinthia which can be modified through a photo editing program to add sites, roads, and the like:

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A map displaying the most important ancient sites in the Corinthia from the Archaic-Late Roman period:

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A map of the Isthmus with sites discussed by Pausanias in the mid-2nd century AD:

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A partial gazetteer of ancient and modern sites and settlements in the region:

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These maps are intentionally basic—no stream valleys, roads, canals, or fortification walls. Feel free to add and modify to your own ends. Please contact me for adopting these maps for the purposes of publication.

Corinthiaka at the AIA

The AIA has posted a preliminary program of the 70+ paper sessions, workshops, and colloquia for the AIA in Seattle in January 2013.  As in previous years (2012, 2011), the Corinthia makes a good showing. If you’re going to the AIA and want to blog or tweet or report on the conference (or parts of it), let me know.

By order of session…

Session 1E: Gold Medal Colloquium in Honor of Jeremy B. Rutter: Minding the Gap: A Problem in Eastern Mediterranean Chronology, Then and Now

  • “Bridging the Gaps Among the Small Worlds of the EBA Aegean” (Daniel J. Pullen, The Florida State University)

Session: 1G: Recent Fieldwork in Greece and Turkey

  • “Excavations at Nemea: the 2012 season” (Kim Shelton, University of California, Berkeley)

Session: 1H: New Analytical Perspectives on Ceramics in Korinthia, Attica, and the Argolid

  • “Ceramic Fabric Analysis and Urban Survey: the Case of Sikyon” (Conor Trainor, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, and Evangelia Kiriatzi, British School at Athens)
  • “Crafting Choices: Early Helladic Ceramic Production and Consumption in Corinthia and the Argolid, Greece” (Clare Burke Davies, University of Sheffield, Peter M. Day, University of Sheffield, Daniel Pullen, Florida State University, James Wiseman, Boston University, Anthi Theodorou-Mavrommatidi, University of Athens, Angeliki Kossyva, 4th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities, Greece, and Alcestis Papadimitriou, 4th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities,Greece)
  • “Petrographic Study of Late Helladic Cooking Pots from the Corinthia” (Debra A. Trusty, Florida State University)
  • “The Production and Distribution of Corinthian Cooking and Southern Argolid Fabrics in the Late Roman Northeast Peloponnese” (Heather Graybehl, University of Sheffield, Samantha Ximeri, University of Sheffield, Mark D. Hammond, University of Missouri-Columbia, Christian Cloke, University of Cincinnati, and Peter M. Day, University of Sheffield)

Session: 1I: Cult and Context

  • “The Perachora Peninsula and the Sanctuary of the Heraion: You Can’t Get There from Here” (Angela Ziskowski, Coe College, and Daniel Lamp, Architect)
  • “Containers and Cult: Recent Research on Amphora Assemblages at Ephesos and Corinth” (Mark L. Lawall, University of Manitoba)

Session: 2A: Roman Greece

  • “Small Change: A Re-examination of the End of Local Bronze Coinage in the Corinthia in the Second Century B.C.E.” (Andrew Connor, University of Cincinnati)
  • “The Rejection of Roman Imperial Portrait Models in the Greek Provinces in the Middle of the Third Century” (Lee Ann Riccardi, The College of New Jersey)
  • “Cattle and Catering at Corinth: Analysis of over One Ton of Animal Bones from the Theatre Excavations” (Michael R MacKinnon, University of Winnipeg)

Session 2B: Greek Sculpture

  • “Sculptures from an Athletic Complex at Corinth” (Mary C Sturgeon, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill)

Session: 3A: The Afterlives of Monuments: Re-use and Transformation in the Ancient World

  • “The Archaic Colonnade at Ancient Corinth: A Case of Julio-Claudian Spolia” (Jon Frey, Michigan State University)

Session: 4F: New Research on Mainland Greece

  • “Terraces and the Organization of Agricultural Production at Late Bronze Age Korphos-Kalamianos” (Lynne A. Kvapil, Xavier University)

Session: 5D: Greeks Overseas

  • “Syracuse-Corfu-Corinth: A Western Wind in Early Doric Architecture” (Philip Sapirstein, Albright Institute of Archaeological Research)

Session: 7G: Managing Archaeological Data in the Digital Age: Best Practices and Realities

  • “The Archaeological Resource Cataloging System (ARCS): A New Practical Approach for Archives, Scholarly Access, and Learning” (Timothy E. Gregory, The Ohio State University, and Jon M. Frey, Michigan State University)

Interpreting Ceramic Assemblages from the Nemea Valley Archaeological Project

Chris Cloke concludes his three-part series today on patterns of settlement and land use in the Nemea Valley.  If you missed the first two, start by reading Part 1 and Part 2Part 1 defines “site” and “off-site” (or “tract”) in terms of NVAP procedure.

In today’s final post on the Nemea Valley Archaeological Project (NVAP), I’ll be looking at a final component of the finds – the variety of the types of ceramic vessels present in the sample – to assess what this can tell us about the differences between finds from documented sites and those from survey tracts.

A fuller picture begins to emerge when we look at the functional classes of pottery making up these assemblages. For the Classical period, as well as the Archaic and Hellenistic periods preceding and following, there is a clear and consistent functional shift between on-site and off-site ceramic finds:

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While less well-represented functional classes – food preparation (various cooking pots) and table service (pouring and serving vessels) – are proportionally similar on and off sites (tracts), there is an inverse relationship between drinking and dining vessels (cups, plates, bowls, etc.) and household storage and utilitarian vessels (pithoi, jars, basins, mortaria, etc.). For the Archaic to Hellenistic periods, drinking and dining vessels made up easily the largest part (over 1/3) of site finds, while among off-site (tract) finds of the same periods this percentage sharply declines and is overtaken by a majority of household storage and utilitarian vessels (also over 1/3). Together with a higher percentage of amphoras among tract finds than at documented sites (a reversal of what one might expect), the predominance of household storage and utilitarian wares not only explains the heavier average weight of off-site sherds, but more importantly suggests that off-site material in these periods was not simply comprised of refuse from sites the survey located (which would produce comparable proportions of vessel types). Rather, this off-site tract material represents different types of activities going on away from places designated as “sites.”

In short, it seems that the tract finds for these periods are picking up traces of rural storage and domestic activities, indicative that many small rural foci of activity may have gone unrecognized by the survey during fieldwork. The idea that there are perhaps many unknown “sites” in the survey area is compatible with a picture of the Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic countryside(s) characterized by dispersed small farms.

The Late Roman pottery, broken down by function, looks rather different:

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The first notable trend is that the off-site (tract) material contains a high percentage of undetermined or unknown sherds (those too fragmentary to make confident identification of their original shape possible), due in large part to the many small, fragmentary sherds belonging to this period (the very thing we should expect from manuring-derived scatters).

Focusing on identifiable vessels, however, the basic proportions among on-site and off-site finds appear very similar:

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The correlation of site and tract pottery in terms of function suggests that both “assemblages” of sherds recovered are products of a similar range of activities. Although we should also expect that the weights of sherds found on sites and those found in tracts would be similar, they are not; tract finds are less than half as heavy, on average, as site finds. That the on- and off-site finds of this period are, as a whole, similar in function, yet different in weight suggests the tract finds were derived from sites but underwent different depositional and/or post-depositional processes to get to where they were found. Given also that this material is found over a wide area and that densities (in terms of sherds per hectare) remain low even in the face of a spike in total sherd count during the Late Roman period, manuring seems a strong explanatory model for the observed patterns.

Granted, this type of analysis ideally must also take into account geomorphology and formation processes I have not discussed here, but by-and-large, I believe there are important differences in the artifacts themselves that speak to changes in farming methods and land use around Nemea.

The general pattern observed here is that, in pre-Roman periods “tracts” are concealing numerous small rural areas of activity, while in the Roman period, the “tract” material seems to have been derived from “sites” themselves. Although documented “sites” in the Early to Late Roman periods were few, landowners seem to have been intensive with their farming, manuring to gain better yields, and in the process seeding the fields with small bits of broken pottery and other refuse. There seem, generally, to be fewer and larger activity areas in the Roman period, indicating control of larger plots of land by fewer individuals or organizations centered in towns and at larger rural villas. Moreover, agents in just such a system could enable manuring more easily through mobilization of labor (something that was always a problem in the Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic periods). At the same time, changing policies of taxation, demanding, by the Late Roman period, payment in crops themselves encouraged farmers to get the most out of available land. Manuring and other practices aimed at increasing crop yields were therefore advantageous in such times.

While not every survey will be able to do something similar to this with data already collected (weighing sherds individually is not always standard practice, and is very time-consuming), David tells me that the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project (PKAP) has recorded finds in such a way as to enable this type of analysis (although the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Project, EKAS, has not). It will be interesting to see if similar or different patterns emerge in different locales. Manuring was not a strategy employed in all places at all times. Its implementation and success depended on local agrarian traditions, the soils and climates characterizing a locale, the types of crops being grown and their overall volume, and the ready availability of manure and other compostable waste (animal manure, for instance, was not easy to obtain in places where stock raising or transhumant pastoralism were not practiced).

I look forward to hearing David’s and others’ responses to this short case-study presented here this week. I hope also that there will be many future opportunities to synthesize and compare NVAP data with those of the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey (EKAS) and other regional projects for the sake of enriching the picture of the Corinthia and its environs.

The Nemea Valley, Archaeological Survey, and Manuring

Chris Cloke continues his three-part series today on the interpretation of Greek and Roman artifact patterns in the Nemea Valley.  If you’re just joining in, start by reading Part 1

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In this, the second of three posts looking at survey data from the Nemea Valley Archaeological Project (NVAP), I’ll be delving further into the world of manure and looking at ways in which survey finds can be used to examine past agricultural practices.

In the interest of minimizing the effort required by transporting manure from pits or heaps around farms, villages, and towns to the fields it was used to fertilize, it was prudent to remove any large intrusions (such as big potsherds) before this was attempted.  Arrian’s Discourses of Epictetus (II.IV.1-8) offer anecdotal evidence that small bits of pottery abounded on heaps of manure. Likening an adulterous person to a pot, Epictetus allegedly remarked, “If you were a vessel so cracked that it was impossible to use you for anything, you would be cast forth upon the dunghills and even from there no one would pick you up.” Thus, scholars have assumed (and some have demonstrated through ethnographic work) that the sort of artifacts typically transported among manure tend to be small and light. So in the course of my work, I began recording the survey’s pottery in such a way as to test these assumptions about manure, its contents, and what this stuff might look like after the organic materials had long since decayed.

NVAP’s collection strategy was twofold: for intensive survey tracts (covering the totality of the walkable landscape) all sherds seen by fieldwalkers were counted. Those deemed to have any diagnostic properties (whether true diagnostics like vessel rims, or simply body sherds whose clay fabric might indicate what they were and when they were produced) were saved, studied, and stored in the Nemea Museum. When survey teams encountered “sites” (recognized by architectural or other clear remains, or set off by abnormal concentrations of artifactual material), more painstaking collection in grid squares or along transects was made, resulting in a fuller sampling of surface material.

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Intensive survey tracts in the NVAP study area (C. Cloke).

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Sites identified by NVAP (C. Cloke). Phlius is represented by the yellow dot at the upper left, while Mt. Foukas (ancient Mount Apesas) is at the upper right. The Nemea Valley is the light gray area in the center, and the modern highway from Corinth to Tripolis can be seen cutting across the lower half of the map.

By weighing each sherd found in the rural tracts walked by NVAP, I was able to observe patterns in the types of material found away from sites, and to compare these patterns to those of site finds. Artifacts found on sites are assumed to have been used and eventually discarded in the general vicinity of their findspots, while finds from tracts may have reached their current positions in a variety of ways, including through manuring. Thus, the expectation would be that, if manuring were taking place on any noteworthy scale, pot-sherds found away from sites would be, on average, lighter than the finds made at sites, because site finds would represent normal use and discard patterns, and tract finds (to some extent) would consist of the smaller bits of pottery not weeded out from manure before its use as fertilizer.

In general, the NVAP tract pottery for ancient historical periods (Archaic to Late Roman) has several peaks, as shown here (broken down first by total sherd count and then by cumulative weight):

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The number of sherds found in tracts peaks clearly in the Late Roman period, but is also stronger than usual in the Classical period, an observation which is borne out in the breakdown by weight (wherein Classical pottery was the heaviest group as a whole).

When the average weights of sherds (that is the total weight per period divided by the total count) is compared on a period-by-period basis with the average weight of sherds found during on-site collection, a distinct difference between Roman and pre-Roman periods becomes clear:

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While tract pottery of the Early, Middle and Late Roman periods (1st century BC to 7th century AD) is discernibly lighter than the on-site finds of the same periods, the opposite is true of earlier periods; in the Classical period in particular (5th to 4th centuries BC), tract pottery was slightly heavier on average than site pottery. In other words, during the Roman era around Nemea, bigger, heavier sherds were found on the surfaces of sites where pots were being used, while lighter, more broken-up sherds were common throughout the countryside.

Yet these types of patterns can be influenced by all manner of variables (frequency of fine vs. coarse wares among the sample, relative proportions of various sherd types – rim, handle, base, body-sherd – or changes in the classes of vessels represented – e.g., 10 sherds from large storage pithoi will weigh far more than 10 sherds from drinking cups). Thus, breaking these variables down on a period-by-period basis served as a means of checking this general pattern and of eliciting other important trends in the data.

In the interest of keeping these posts relatively brief, I’ll focus primarily on the Classical and Late Roman periods, when off-site finds peak.

One notable trend is that there was a higher proportion of coarse and very coarse Classical pottery found off-site than on-site. A preponderance of coarse wares goes some way toward explaining why off-site finds were slightly heavier, since coarser pottery is generally thick-walled and clunky.

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Secondly, subdividing finds by sherd type not only reveals biases in the dataset in terms of what was recognized and collected in the field, but can also explain trends in weight data. Here are the average weights (based on all finds of ancient historical periods) for the different parts of pots:

Part

Average Weight

Rim

53.09 grams

Handle

35.15 grams

Base

27.79 grams

Body Sherd

22.29 grams

In short, rims tended to be the heaviest parts found, while body sherds were the lightest. When breaking the Classical material down by part, off-site finds differed from on-site finds in several ways:

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For one thing, the tract finds of this period include a slightly higher percentage of rims (making them heavier), but they also have a higher percentage of body sherds (making them lighter on average). More handles than among site finds (heavy), and fewer bases (fairly light), make the Classical tract finds heavier on the whole.

Late Roman finds were coarser on-site than off…

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… although the distinction between semi-coarse and coarse wares can be blurry. In both cases, there were very low percentages both of fine and of very coarse wares, which are the ones most likely to skew the data one way or the other.

The breakdown of Late Roman pottery by vessel parts is perhaps more interesting:

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Tract finds contained fewer rims and more body sherds (skewing them lighter), but also more handles (skewing them back toward the heavier end). Yet the 35% of body sherds (the lightest category) among the Late Roman tract finds was lower than the 44% of body sherds among Classical tract finds (the peak in average weight for off-site ceramics!). Clearly, these breakdowns do not tell the whole story.

In part 3, tomorrow, I’ll be looking at the functional variety of these finds and begin to tie together these various patterns into a working explanation of the off-site survey finds.

Chris Cloke on Survey and Agriculture in the Nemea Valley

I was sorry to have missed Chris Cloke’s talk on the Nemea Valley at the recent meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America.  He was kind enough to send me a draft of the paper which has got me thinking again about the human behaviors behind artifact scatters documented in archaeological survey.  Since Bill Caraher and I have recently been working on papers interpreting artifact scatters in the Eastern Korinthia and a large site in Cyprus, Chris’ paper has generated food for thought.

As Chris has undertaken some cutting-edge distributional survey analysis, I was delighted that he was willing to contribute an overview of his work here.  This three-part blog series discusses a component of his Ph.D. dissertation on a regional study of the Nemea Valley Archaeological Project(NVAP).

For a little background, Chris Cloke is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Classics at the University of Cincinnati, who has participated in fieldwork in Italy, Albania, Greece, Armenia, and Jordan and is broadly interested in Greek and Roman landscapes.  If you’re interested in reading more about his research in the Nemea Valley, check out p. 10 and 12 of the fall 2011 edition of Akoue (the newsletter of the ASCSA).  Chris’ essay starts here.

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First of all, I’d like to thank David for offering me this space to share some of my research: I’m a great fan of David’s work and of this blog, and hope that presenting a few preliminary thoughts here over the next several days will further a productive dialogue about survey methodology and interpretation of results as they relate to the history of the Corinthia and northeast Peloponnesos.

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NVAP survey tracts shown in red on a topographical map of the area (C. Cloke)

I’ve been working for some time now with the landscapes documented by the Nemea Valley Archaeological Project (NVAP). During the mid to late 1980s, NVAP intensively surveyed an area of roughly 80 square kilometers comprised of the inland valleys around ancient Nemea, a site neighbored by Kleonai on the east and the small polis of Phlius to the west. The sanctuary of Nemea, the site of Panhellenic games beginning in the 570s BC, has benefitted from a long-running program of excavations by the University of California, Berkeley, under the direction of Steven Miller and more recently Kim Shelton. Although Nemea’s ancient political ties were primarily to Argos and Kleonai (both poleisoversaw the games at one time or another), the sanctuary was situated just west of Corinthian territory. The survey area’s most striking landmark, the towering plateau of Mount Foukas (ancient Mount Apesas, site of an ash altar to Zeus pre-dating cult activity at Nemea itself), is equally magisterial when viewed from Acrocorinth and the plains to its southwest.

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Map courtesy of the Nemea Valley Archaeological Project. Drawing by Julia E. Pfaff, reprinted from page 581 of Wright et al., “The Nemea Valley Archaeological Project: a Preliminary Report,” Hesperia 59 (4):579-659.

The lone polis within the study area, Phlius was built on the foothills overlooking a broad valley just west of Nemea, and was the last major settlement before Stymphalos to the west and Sikyon to the north. The southern part of the NVAP survey area was criss-crossed by the Dervenakia, Tretos, and Kelossa passes, which offered the best overland access from Corinth toward Mycenae and Argos to the south. In short, Nemea’s importance was largely religious, but its surroundings also served as a key territory for getting from the Isthmus to places deeper into the Peloponnesos.

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Map courtesy of the Nemea Valley Archaeological Project. Drawing by Julia E. Pfaff, reprinted from page 586 of Wright et al., “The Nemea Valley Archaeological Project: a Preliminary Report,” Hesperia 59 (4):579-659.

As is the case with many surveys, one of the most difficult aspects of the data generated by NVAP is the rather low density of sherds dotting much of the landscape. Many archaeologists and historians, including David himself, continue to debate exactly how pot-sherds end up strewn across great distances, blanketing the ground, albeit fairly sparsely. My goal with the three posts I’ll be contributing here is not to provide a single, catch-all explanation for off-site sherd scatters but rather to consider some patterns among the NVAP material, and to offer a few conclusions about how historical phenomena in the past may be represented by archaeological finds.

One common explanation for the small quantities of sherds blanketing the areas walked by surveys is that these cultural artifacts were transported into fields together with manure (see, for example Bintliff and Snodgrass’s “Off-Site Pottery Distributions”; and for a different take on the problem, Alcock, Cherry, and Davis’, “Intensive survey, agricultural practice and the classical landscape of Greece,” in Classical Greece: ancient histories and modern archaeologies).

The reason archaeologists care so much about whether, and to what extent, ancient farmers spread manure over their fields is closely tied to any attempt to derive meaning from survey ceramics. Those who believe manuring by ancient farmers was considerable see the presence of sherds throughout the landscape as evidence of this practice, while skeptics are able to provide a wide range of other reasons that sherds and other artifacts have come to rest in seemingly empty fields. Some common ideas are that these finds are traces of small-scale, short-lived, or mobile rural activities, that they represent activity at small farms where any buildings were made only from perishable materials, or perhaps that the sherds once made up the fabric of ancient roads – pots in the potholes, as it were. We cannot begin to understand how and why artifacts become strewn across the landscape unless we fully engage with the details of a variety of past practices which have shaped the landscape in many different ways over the centuries.

Manuring is one such practice I will explore here. Manure is in itself a complex cultural artifact, which combines animal (and perhaps human) waste, domestic rubbish (including pottery), and all sorts of other discarded materials intermingled in a mixture which could be spread over fields, terraces, or gardens to improve their fertility. Ancient authors, particularly agronomists, recorded many thoughts on manure, and Xenophon (Oec. 20.10-11) remarked, “So, too, everyone will say that in agriculture there is nothing so good as manure.”

One possible sign of manuring frequently documented by survey archaeologists in Greece is the so-called “halo effect,” whereby sherds densities decrease as one moves away from sites. This phenomenon has been noted on a large scale around cities and towns, and on a smaller scale around individual farmhouses.

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Densities of sherds declining with distance from NVAP’s site 704, a small Late Roman villa (C. Cloke)

Because this pattern appears among the NVAP spatial data, and because the area’s landscape as a whole is characterized by low numbers of sherds in a widespread, though discontinuous “blanket,” I began exploring the idea that manuring in various periods, by various agents, may have been responsible for at least some of the off-site material encountered.

In the next post in this series, I will describe some quantitative approaches used to supplement and question patterns in the spatial data such as the example shown here.

For their intellectual, moral and financial support of my work I’d like to thank Jack Davis, John Cherry, Kathleen Lynch, Steven Ellis, Alan Sullivan III, Jim Wright, Susan Alcock, Kim Shelton, Elizabeth Langridge-Noti, Heather Graybehl, Mark Hammond, Sarah James, Emily Egan, the University of Cincinnati Department of Classics, the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, the staff of the Nemea Museum, and the 37th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities in Corinthos.